You may already be familiar with the ketogenic diet. Keto has been making a big splash in the nutrition world, and we get asked all the time what we think about it.
People are talking about keto for good reason. It can be awesome. But with excitement can also come a lot of misinformation. We’ll help you navigate the ins and outs of a ketogenic diet over the next couple articles. Let’s start with the basic structure of keto, as well as its possible benefits and drawbacks.
What is a keto diet?
In a nutshell, keto is a low-carb, high-fat diet that’s designed to make you burn fat as your main source of energy. Most of the time, your body burns carbohydrates for energy. But if you cut off your body’s supply of carbs, your body begins seeking out fat instead. Eating keto shifts you into a state of ketosis, which is when you stop using carbs (for the most part) and start using fat as your biggest source of fuel.
No surprise, then, that a keto diet cuts out nearly all carbs. Here’s a graph of a typical macronutrient ratio you’d eat on keto, by percentage of calories:
The numbers here are a little flexible: anywhere within 65-80% fat, 5-10% carbs, and 15-30% protein. Some people do better with slightly higher carbs on keto. Others may want more protein. You can try playing with the numbers and seeing what makes you feel best. What’s consistent, though, is that you’re getting your lion’s share of calories from fat. When you’re in ketosis, fat provides abundant and convenient fuel for your body.
Why burn fat for energy?
There are a few possible benefits to going keto. But before we talk about them, a quick disclaimer: the ketogenic diet was created about 100 years ago to treat epilepsy, and while it’s great for that, research on keto for things like inflammation, cognitive benefits, cancer, diabetes, and so on is still in its infancy. A lot of the research on keto has only been going on for the last few years, so take what you read here with a grain of salt.
That said, there’s evidence that keto may be good for a few different things:
To be clear, just because you’re using fat as your main energy source doesn’t mean you’re constantly burning through your stored body fat. You’ll use the fat you eat for energy first, and body fat after that. You won’t be burning stored body fat all the time in keto – that’s a common misconception.
But the cool thing about keto is that you may be able to burn body fat without feeling hungry all the time. A recent well-controlled study found that keto dieters burned about 300 more calories per day than their higher-carb counterparts, without changing anything other than the macronutrients they ate . Researchers haven’t figured out exactly why people burn more calories on keto, but a growing number of rodent studies [4,5,6] suggest it’s thanks to increased thermogenesis – in other words, on keto you may produce more body heat at rest.
Then there’s the psychological value in being able to eat steak and butter all the time. Fat is delicious and keto allows for plenty of it. That can be a refreshing change if you find you struggle with avoiding fat. On the other hand, some people find it exhausting to cut carbs so severely.
Your body’s metabolism is influenced by a number of factors, so ultimately, all this comes down to what works for you. If you’re looking to lose weight, keto may be worth a try.
The other nice thing about keto is that it curbs appetite. Your body likes to maintain homeostasis, which means it tends to protest when you make major changes to it. That includes losing weight – in general, the more weight you lose, the more your body releases ghrelin, a hormone that contributes to hunger, to try to get you to put that weight back on. Keto suppresses ghrelin, which can translate to a less pressing sensation of hunger, and more successful long-term dieting [7,8]. That hunger suppression is also convenient if you’re going a long time without eating. On keto, it can feel easier to skip meals when, for example, you’re traveling.
Again, research on keto and mental performance is pretty new, and there aren’t yet any quality studies using healthy adults. However, keto does dramatically change the way your brain gets its energy. Keto is a well-established way to prevent epileptic seizures — doctors have been using it with epileptic patients since the 1920s — and more recent research suggests that it could help people with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, both of which mess with the brain’s ability to use glucose [9,10].
Anecdotally, many people on keto report more stable energy and mental clarity (a reduction in “brain fog”). We suspect, based on rat studies, that the improved mental function is thanks to a couple different things:
- Keto makes mitochondria (the power plants of your cells) more efficient and more active in rats , which could translate to more available fuel for brain cells.
- Keto also increases antioxidant activity in the brains of rats . Antioxidants keep inflammation and cellular damage low.
- Keto caused brand new mitochondria to grow in rats as well [13,14], further deepening energy stores.
These studies are all in rats. It’s not yet clear whether or not they apply to humans, but enough people report more energy and mental clarity from keto that we figured they’re worth mentioning. Your mileage may vary; you’ll just have to try keto for yourself and see if you notice any benefits.
Stable energy and blood sugar regulation
Carbs – particularly refined carbs – increase your blood sugar and trigger insulin release. Some people do fine with carbs. Others feel a yo-yo effect: a spike in energy after a higher-carb meal, followed by hunger and fatigue a couple hours later. Your blood sugar goes up, and then it goes down, as shown by this handy graph, adapted from this study:
You can see that the more sugar there is in a meal, the greater the spike and crash. The less sugar, the more stable the blood glucose stays.
So if you feel sleepy or you crash after a higher-carb meal, the first step would be to cut out sugar. But some people are particularly sensitive to carbs and feel that spike and crash even with complex carbs.
If you’re one of them, keto may help. It’s an elegant way to skirt the entire blood sugar issue. With no carbs to burn, blood sugar tends to decrease, and then remain stable. Cutting carbs to ketogenic levels may be particularly valuable for people with diabetes , although you should definitely talk to your doctor about that before making any changes. We are not doctors, nor do we play them on TV.
Keto can also be good for endurance training. Ultra-endurance runners performed as well on keto as their fellow runners did on a high-carb diet, without running out of energy and falling apart from exhaustion (colloquially called “bonking”) .
Most of us are not ultra-marathoners, so that study may not apply. Fortunately, normal cyclists see the same results from a keto diet . On a practical level, the benefit here is that you wouldn’t need to carbo-load before an endurance event.
Some scientists have proposed a theory (based on rat studies and conjecture so far) that you actually become more efficient at using oxygen when you’re in keto, and that it may offer advantages over carbs for endurance training. The theorized mechanism is beyond the scope of this article, but if you’re curious and want to get into some deep biochemistry, Dr. Peter Attia breaks it down step-by-step here.
Keto may help decrease inflammation, too. Again, a lot of people report improvements in inflammatory issues like arthritis after they go keto, but there aren’t too many good human studies backing it up yet. There are plenty of rodent and human cell studies, though.
- Keto decreases free radical damage and central nervous system inflammation in rats [18,19]
- Two small studies of humans with fatty liver disease found eating keto significantly decreased liver inflammation [20,21]
- Mice fed a ketogenic diet had higher pain tolerance and decreased inflammation after their paws were injected with a toxin 
- Beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB), one of the things you turn fat into while on keto, is anti-inflammatory in both rats and human cell cultures 
Who may keto NOT be good for?
Keto may not be for everyone.
- Non-endurance athletes can struggle with keto. While keto seems to be good for aerobic (oxygen-based) exercise, it can fall short for brief, intense exercise, probably because brief, intense exercise taps your glycogen (sugar) stores for fuel, and on keto you store significantly less sugar in your cells. A lot of people report bonking when they try things like powerlifting or CrossFit while on traditional keto. There are ways to tweak keto to accommodate heavy lifting or HIIT workouts, but it takes a little more personal experimenting. We’ll get into those solutions in another post.
- Pregnant women should probably avoid keto, too. Glucose is the main energy source that fuels fetal development . Eat your high-quality carbs if you’re pregnant.
- Children may want to avoid keto, too. It may be fine for them, but it isn’t well-studied, and youngsters have very different nutritional needs than adults do. Probably better not to take a chance on keto with your kids.
- People with hormone imbalances should talk to a doctor before going keto. Typically, keto causes increased cortisol (the stress hormone) during your first week or two on it, because your body isn’t used to burning fat and is demanding more carbs. The cortisol spike can screw with your sleep and stress your body while you adapt. Most people are good after that first couple weeks, but if you’re already dealing with, say, adrenal fatigue or chronic stress in your life, adding another stressor may not be a good idea. Keto may also affect thyroid function, so talk to your doctor before going keto if you have an imbalance in your thyroid hormones.
- Kidney disease may not pair well with ketosis. Kidneys indirectly regulate fat metabolism, so if your kidneys aren’t running at their best, you may struggle to break down lots of fat . Keto also increases uric acid in the blood for the first few weeks you’re on keto. Uric acid can contribute to kidney stones, especially if you’re already prone to them. If you have kidney issues, you should probably talk to your doctor before trying keto.
- Gallbladder removal can make it tough for the enzymes in your small intestine to digest fat. If you’ve had your gallbladder taken out, you may want to avoid keto.
Outside a few specific cases, though, many people find keto is an excellent way to eat. Let’s recap keto’s potential benefits:
- Weight loss
- Hunger suppression
- Mental clarity
- Stable energy and blood sugar
- Increased endurance
- Decreased inflammation
- Delicious food
Keto may work wonders for you, or it may not. The only way to know is to give it a shot.
Planning on trying keto? Stay tuned. Our next article will get into the biochemistry of ketosis, and the one after that will give you a practical guide to eating keto, day-by-day. In the meantime, leave any questions or comments below. Thanks for reading!
As life keeps getting busier, more than ever, we need a simple solution for health. Health gurus claim to have the secret to perfect health—the one diet to rule them all. Most food companies are happy to indulge us with health claims, while the FDA guidelines themselves seem to indicate that we’ve got it all figured out.
But over years of studying nutrition, I’ve realized that the more we know, the clearer it becomes that we’re just beginning to understand how food works in the body.
No surprise, then, that nutrition can be confusing. It’s tough to know where to turn for good advice, and implementing it is even harder.
My own pursuit of optimal diet has been a bit of a roller coaster. I’m a bio nerd. I was a fitness and nutrition coach. Now, I’ve made a food company based on what I’ve learned about nutrition over the last couple years. I’ve ended up with a perspective I’d like to share here, in the hopes that you find it useful on your own journey to health.
Here are six major takeaways I’ve found while looking for the perfect diet for myself and others:
- Science is your ally on the road to health
- Community leads to lasting change
- Dogma is destructive
- Owning your health can save your life
- There is no one-size-fits-all to nutrition
- Be practical, not perfect
1) Science is your ally on the road to health
My interest in health started in high school. Like many males my age, health wasn’t about feeling good or living well. It was about kicking butt in sports, and impressing girls (which, of course, were two sides of the same coin). I was scrawny, as you can see:
That’s me at 17. I started working out to look good and impress the ladies (which didn’t work), but the pursuit of looking good led me to start digging into biology and nutrition in my free time. I realized that if I could understand how humans work, I could make my body stronger.
I dove in to physiology, nutrition, and metabolism, and started experimenting more with exercise and diet.
I started from the ground up, studying how muscles work from the inside out. I quickly realized this information was giving me an advantage in the gym. There are so many diet and exercise programs out there; armed with the science basics, it was much easier to discern fact from fiction and figure out what was likely happening in my body.
The importance of knowing the basics is more crucial now than ever. Words like insulin and glucose, saturated fat and microbiome are being thrown around willy nilly in blogs and marketing copy these days. Most people don’t truly understand the nuances of the scientific concepts behind the words. I know I didn’t! But these words do mean a lot, and knowing the basics about your body gives you the knowledge to pick apart what will help you grow stronger and what won’t.
The first step to improving something is learning how it works. Take the time to learn about some simple biological mechanisms in your body so you can differentiate the health marketing mumbo jumbo and the real deal. Ample’s blog is a solid resource. You can also just read a human biology textbook. This one is free and outlines the basics of how our bodies work.
2) Community leads to lasting change
And then I found CrossFit.
Q: How do you know if someone does CrossFit?
A: Don’t worry. They’ll tell you.
When I was a sophomore in college in 2008, CrossFit hadn’t yet grown into the powerhouse it is today, so I quickly took ownership of spreading the gospel every chance I got. I started the CrossFit club at my college and created St. Olaf College’s “OleFit” CrossFit competition. At this point, fitness and health were my life and identity, so it felt natural to turn it into a career. In 2011, I started a CrossFit gym with two college friends.
We cared genuinely about each client, and this care turned into quick business growth. People were getting amazing results and it was thanks to way more than just the workouts. It was the community that empowered them to make lasting, habitual changes.
If you’re trying to make change in your life, build or join a community around it. Find likeminded people. Share ideas. Challenge one another and grow together. It’s way more difficult to go it alone.
3) Dogma is destructive
CrossFit led me to the Paleo diet. Paleo focuses on mimicking our ancestors’ eating patterns, based on the idea that our modern health problems are the result of us straying from what we’ve evolved to eat. This diet generally involves eating a diet full of healthy fats, meats, nuts, seeds, and vegetables, but devoid of grains, legumes, dairy, and processed sugar.
Paleo worked really well for me. I had stable energy despite my intense workouts. And yes, I finally did grow muscle! I became a huge advocate and let everyone know it.
It started with my CrossFit clients. I wasn’t a nutritionist, but I had a biology degree and had been reading nutrition journals since I was seventeen, so I felt comfortable giving my two cents.
I was equally passionate about my diet as I was about fitness. And just as I suggested CrossFit for damn near everybody, I suggested Paleo for almost every client. It worked for me, so therefore it should be the same for everyone, right? Young, old, men, women, in shape, out of shape – everyone got really similar Paleo-centric food guidelines.
Many tried it, and many made massive strides in their health. I saw people lose 40 pounds in 4 months, and others with significantly better blood lipids. I became a true believer. Sure, some people didn’t see the results they wanted, but I assumed they just weren’t doing it right.
This is about the time I became an asshole. I was convinced that Paleo was the way to eat well, and that if people would just follow it, they’d fix their health problems. I became an evangelist in the most damaging sense of the word.
I remember thoroughly freaking out my mom at a small town diner. She wanted to enjoy her lunch. I wanted to tell her why her entire way of existence was based on a lie. “The breading on that chicken will kill you! Are you really going to eat those fries right now? Do you understand how they cook that? Let me tell you why the government doesn’t know anything, mom. You don’t even know!”
This went on for a couple years. I would talk to people about food, and they either got it, or they didn’t. If they didn’t, we couldn’t be friends (I exaggerate, but not by much). Any time someone challenged my views or had a different experience, I’d write them off as ignorant, lazy, or cherry picking science to back their position. Shockingly, this was not the best way to help people.
I was convinced that Paleo was the only correct way to eat, but this belief lead to stubbornness that made me blind to the limitations and nuances of the particular view. My “holier than thou” attitude ended up getting in the way of my growth and pushed those I loved away from me.
As tempting as it may be to see nutrition and health through one particular lense, try to resist becoming dogmatic about these beliefs. It’s ok to be excited to share new-found knowledge. But being evangelical about them is the quickest path to stifling your progress, and alienating those you want to help most.
4) Owning your health can save your life
We all know some version of the stats. Heart disease is the number one killer in the Western world. More than 130 million suffer from some serious chronic disease like type 2 diabetes or Alzheimer’s. We spend trillions each year on drugs and surgery for people with preventable illnesses.
And by 2013, I started to see those stats in person.
By this point, I had sold the CrossFit gym and begun selling medical devices to surgeons. Basically, my job was to go into hospitals and train doctors to use these devices during surgery. Over the course of two years, I sat in on over 1,000 surgeries. I saw everything from stomach stapling procedures to knee replacements to open-heart bypasses.
Though I was selling medical devices, my main interest was still diet. I often asked the surgeons I worked with how nutrition could have impacted the people on the tables. In nearly every case, they would bring up diet as a causative factor.
They had long, multi-year relationships with the patients. Why was it that some of these patients got better and never had to go in for surgery, while others ended up under the knife? Their answer: those who took personal ownership of their health were the ones who usually avoided surgery, while those who abdicated their responsibility to the doctor were the ones who got worse.
It’s really common and easy to use modern medicine as a scapegoat for the massive (and growing) preventable disease statistics. But regardless of whose fault it is, the reality is that you are the only person who can truly own your health.
Food can be medicine or it can be a poison. Good nutrition can increase your energy and boost your mood, help decrease pain and speed recovery – it can even improve your relationships. Think about how much happier people would be if they felt energetic and has less pain! Good nutrition can also minimize your risk of chronic disease and keep you off that operating table.
I saw first-hand the serious repercussions of what it looks like to leave your health exclusively in the hands of a stranger. You must take full responsibility of your diet because, like it or not, our medical system can only do so much. You have the power and responsibility to figure it out.
5) There is no one-size-fits-all to nutrition
Taking control of my diet improved my workouts, recovery, my mood, and productivity. I watched the same thing happen to clients, friends, and family. This nutrition stuff is powerful!
But remember, I was still convinced that Paleo was the best diet (Nay! The ONLY diet!) out there. As a staunch Paleo evangelist, I read everything I could get my hands on. I also started attending Paleo and ancestral nutrition conferences.
And things got frustrating. Some of the most knowledgeable and credentialed speakers at these conferences were the least confident when they spoke.
And the more I learned, the more I realized that the speakers who were clear and concise, who talked about Paleo with the most certainty, were the ones who knew the least about the actual science. They would make mistakes, or exaggerate claims, or gloss over details to make really sexy, convincing points.
And then I started to notice paradoxes. Why was it that, despite me “knowing” that Paleo was the very best diet, there were people who didn’t seem to do well on it? People who didn’t lose weight or have unlimited energy?
For that matter, why did some people gain weight or have worse blood markers after eating Paleo?
Above all, how were there vegans – VEGANS – who actually seemed healthy? How could the Paleo gods have allowed them to survive, much less thrive? Could it be that we don’t know everything there is to know about nutrition?
This is when I fell off my Paleo high horse.
Science doesn’t know it all yet. This shouldn’t be a concern, because true understanding proceeds only when we have the humility to admit what we don’t know. Beware of the experts who say they understand it all. Instead, become comfortable with a bit of uncertainty – or at least open-mindedness – as you move forward.
6) Be practical, not perfect
At this point, I knew a couple of things for sure:
- I am the only one in charge of my health.
- There are limitations in generalizing. Individualized nutrition is the way to go.
So, still in pursuit of the perfect diet, I coupled heavy research with constant personal testing. Weird supplements, blood panels, genetic sequencing, gut microbiome tests, all of it. After all, this was the only way to understand what works for me.
Some call it quantified self; others call it biohacking. Regardless, I began to track everything. At first, it was exciting. But this approach took most of my energy. I was spending hundreds of dollars per month on testing and supplements. Self-experimentation alone felt like a full-time job.
All the while, I actually did have a full-time job.
I had moved to San Francisco to launch a physical therapy startup and was living in a big communal house full of 50 entrepreneurs. We all worked around the clock.
My nutrition upkeep alone was exhausting and I was getting marginal returns. Sure, I could understand how my blood ketones were affected by every nutritional change I made, but how actionable was this knowledge, and how necessary was it at this point in my life?
The difference between me and a “normal” person became stark. My housemates recognized they should be eating better and were generally interested in health, yet mostly ignorant of how to tackle it. Meanwhile, as I cooked Brussels sprouts for every meal, their pizza boxes and ramen bowls covered the tables.
There had to be a happy medium. A way that both my friends and I could all get a pretty good diet while living in a world that recognized the realities of a 21st century life.
By this point, I recognized that there were simple truths about nutrition that could yield 80% of the benefit, and that seemed to be a great start for just about everyone:
- Eat mostly whole foods.
- Reduce the amount of crappy processed foods.
- Find a macronutrient ratio that serves your energy and goals.
We can always debate the details, but if arguing about which diet is better prevents action, that’s a sign we’re getting too in the weeds.
So I started by educating these guys about nutrition. I created a simple lecture series designed to give them the foundations of nutrition, as well as hosting some cooking classes so they could make simple meals.
But for many of them, the problem wasn’t knowledge; it was implementation. In a fast paced world, where nutrition understandably wasn’t their number 1 priority at certain times of the day.
As a chief technical officer of a growing startup, my friend Zoli’s problem was lunch. He couldn’t make food in the middle of the day, and resorted to cheap packaged foods, which left him with brain fog and gut distress after every meal. Was there another packaged food I recommended that he could turn to? I told him there wasn’t.
After a month of prodding, Zoli convinced me to make a quick nutritious meal solution that he and the rest of my friends could trust. I worked on the formula that eventually became Ample. As good as cooking nutritious food from scratch? Of course not. Better than microwaved ramen? Definitely.
After all, the good diet you can follow is better than the ideal diet you can’t.
Perfect is the enemy of great.
These days, many of us aspire to do it all, and feel judged if we’re not perfect. We should be working out, meditating, making our own food, and sleeping enough! We should kick ass at our jobs, have an amazing friend group, family, and passionate romantic relationships! Of course some of these fall by the wayside. And for many of us, our health is the first to go.
You don’t have to be perfect. In fact, you can’t be, at least not in everything. Sometimes, your nutrition should take precedence. Other times, it shouldn’t. Only you know what’s most important, so don’t let anyone else guilt you for how you prioritize your life.
Test a diet that seems interesting, but realize that results matter more than ideology. And if optimizing the last 10% of your diet starts dominating your thoughts and your time, it’s probably not worth the stress.
Some final thoughts
I’ve been on a personal and professional health journey for the last twelve years, but it is far from over. Here’s a few things I’ve learned:
Knowing biology is useful for furthering health. Science can inform, but it can also divide if we use it to look like an expert when we’re not. “Out-sciencing” others leads to bigger egos, not more understanding. To truly embrace science means admitting our own limitations.
Communities are essential, but they can also segregate. Find a supportive community, making sure not to lose your individuality, common sense, or judgment in the process. Keep an eye out for an inability to see other points of view – both in yourself, and in your community at large.
Optimal is subjective. There may be times where you need to focus 100% on your health. If so, feel free to get in the weeds. But for many of us, over-optimizing our diets leads to overwhelm and robs us of other pursuits. Some of us can barely get 5 minutes alone in a day, let alone make every healthy meal for ourselves. There should be no guilt in doing your best.
Talking about saturated fat is tough, largely because it’s such a polarizing issue. Depending on what you read, saturated fat is depicted as the ugly, heart-disease-causing stepchild of the fatty acid world, or it’s shown as the prodigal son that should be hailed with impunity.
This debate has lasted for 50 years, in part because, despite the strong claims, the research on saturated fat is oddly inconclusive. As a quick example, there have been ten scientific reviews of saturated fat and heart disease in the last ten years:
- 4 found that saturated fat causes heart disease [1,2,3,4]
- 4 found that it doesn’t [5,6,7,8]
- 2 found that the data were too messy to make a conclusion one way or the other [9,10]
For the record, we fall strongly in the middle. We’re not convinced that saturated fat will kill you, nor are we convinced it’s a cure-all for all health conditions. Based on current research, it seems to be pretty neutral – a solid source of energy that, provided you’re getting it from good foods, has a comfortable place in a healthy diet. Nothing too dramatic.
We’ll explain our reasoning fully over time, and hopefully by the end of this series of articles, you’ll be comfortable eating a nice seared steak with butter, or cooking your veggies in coconut oil.
In this article, we want to start with the essentials: how does your body actually use saturated fat?
Let’s get into it.
Brief recap: what is saturated fat?
Note: If this section piques your curiosity, you can check out this basic guide to fats for a deeper look at the many types of fat.
There are two major types of fat: saturated and unsaturated.
- Saturated fat molecules are nice straight lines, which lets them pack together tightly like sardines in a can. Packing together so well makes saturated fats solid at room temperature. They’re also the most stable, rigid fat. Think butter and coconut oil.
- Unsaturated fat molecules have kinks in them. The kinks mean they don’t pack together as neatly as saturated fats, leaving them liquid at room temperature instead of solid. Unsaturated fats are also more fluid and less stable.
Your body needs a mix of saturated and unsaturated fats to function well. You can read about unsaturated fats here. For this article, let’s dive a little deeper into what your body does with saturated fat.
How your body uses saturated fat
Your body uses saturated fat in two ways: structurally and for energy.
Because saturated fat molecules are so rigid, your body turns to them in places where stability is valuable.
Saturated fat for structure
One such place is your cell membranes. Cell membranes give shape to your cells and decide what goes in and out of them. Your cell membranes want to hit the sweet spot of flexible stability, so they combine fluid unsaturated fat and rigid saturated fat. Saturated fats make up about 50% of the average cell membrane, and the lion’s share of the fats in your brain cells are saturated .
The insides of your lungs are also coated in saturated fat. The coating is called pulmonary surfactant, and it keeps your lungs pliable enough to expand fully, yet structured enough that they don’t collapse when you exhale.
You also use saturated fat for energy
Nearly every cell in your body contains mitochondria. These little powerhouses take in broken down carbs, fats, and proteins from the food you eat and turn them into energy, in the form of ATP (adenosine triphosphate). ATP is what runs your entire body. Every one of your movements, heartbeats, breaths, thoughts, and so on is thanks to your mitochondria creating ATP.
Your mitochondria usually turn to carbs before any other fuel source, provided carbs are available . For example, if you eat a sweet potato with butter, you’ll burn through the carbs in the sweet potato first. If your body still needs more energy, your mitochondria go to work on the fat in the butter. If not, you’ll store that butter as body fat, saving it for leaner times in the future.
But in the absence of carbs, your mitochondria will happily burn fat for fuel. Say you just woke up and you’ve burned through carbs from dinner the night before and you have some coffee with heavy cream. The only thing new to your system is a bit of saturated fat.
Step 1: getting fat to your mitochondria
Fat metabolism (your body’s way of breaking down fat and using it for energy) is a fascinating process. Let’s break it down:
- Some people argue digestion actually starts in your brain. With the thought of food or delicious smells wafting through your kitchen, your brain sends signals to your salivary glands and digestive system to begin the secretion of digestive enzymes.
- Let’s go back to the cream in your coffee example. The lipase enzyme in your saliva begins the breakdown of fat into glycerol and fatty acids. But this is just the beginning! The majority of fatty acid breakdown happens in the small intestine. Your cream has a ways to go.
- From your mouth, the partially digested cream travels down your esophagus, through your stomach, and into your small intestine.
- This is where the magic happens. Bile from your liver emulsifies the fat, mixing it with water to form tiny droplets. These droplets create more surface area for pancreatic enzymes to break fat molecules down into fatty acids, the building blocks of fat.
- Fatty acids are then absorbed by cells in your gut lining and repackaged into little shuttles called chylomicrons.
- Chylomicrons carry the fat into your bloodstream. From there, they deliver it to mitochondria in parts of your body that are looking for energy. Your mitochondria then happily gobble up these little fat packets as fuel so you can do things like move around and think and read this article.
For example, if you go for a run after your coffee with cream, the chylomicrons will shuttle fatty acids to the mitochondria in your leg muscles.
Step 2: Creating fuel
Once they arrive in your mitochondria, fatty acids go through something called beta-oxidation – your mitochondria slowly chews through the fatty acid, sends the products through the Krebs Cycle (sound familiar? From high school biology, maybe?) and spits out ATP, all shiny and ready to use as energy.
Whew. That’s how your body actually breaks down fats for energy.
What if you don’t eat much saturated fat?
Your body is resourceful. If you don’t feed it saturated fat, it goes rogue and starts making its own saturated fat from carbohydrates.
On a standard Western diet, you make about 2 grams of saturated fat every day . If you eat very little saturated fat, your body compensates by making more of it – up to around 10 grams a day for someone on a very low-fat diet .
Basically, as long as you’re not starving yourself, your body will find a way to get its baseline needs for saturated fat. Beyond that, saturated fat becomes a source of energy.
Are there benefits to using fat for energy?
It depends on the rest of your diet.
Your mitochondria generally turn to carbs for energy when carbs are available. But you don’t store carbs in your system for long. Within 24 hours of not eating carbs, your reserves run out, which is when many people start craving bread, sugar, and so on.
But if you power through the cravings and continue to limit carbs for a few days, your mitochondria will switch over to burning fat as their main fuel source. Many people report more stable energy and a less urgent sensation of hunger on low-carb diets – likely because their mitochondria are used to burning fat, and using up body fat for fuel feels more comfortable than it does when your mitochondria are used to carbs.
In short, some people seem to do better with a low-carb diet, where they’re running mostly on fat. Others seem to do better on a high-carb diet. Try both and see which you prefer.
While you’re playing around with your fat intake, though…
Choose good sources of saturated fat
This is where Americans get their saturated fat (data taken from this giant national survey):
Crunching the numbers, you’ll see that:
- 37.5% of saturated fat intake comes from pizza, grain-based desserts (cookies, cakes, and the like), dairy desserts (ice cream), processed meats, candy, chips, fries, pasta, and burritos/tortillas.
- Another 24.5% comes from the nebulous “All other food categories.”
- Only 24.2% of Americans’ saturated fat comes from whole foods like beef, eggs, full-fat dairy, butter, and nuts.
This is where it’s important to contextualize saturated fat intake. While they may have similar saturated fat content, whole eggs and beef are very different from cupcakes and potato chips. The first two are nutrient-dense sources of protein, precious fats, antioxidants, and so on. The latter two include sugar, damaged/inflammatory fats, food additives/chemicals/colors, and very little nutrient value.
Nutrition is a bigger picture than any single nutrient. If you’re eating quality food – plenty of veggies, adequate protein, minimal sugar, and so on – we’d say saturated fat has its place in your diet.
So whether you’re getting 3% or 30% of your calories from saturated fat, choose good sources. Some excellent options are:
- Eggs (Vital Farms has good pasture-raised eggs, and you can find them in most stores)
- Coconut oil
- Beef or lamb (US Wellness Meats has superb grass-fed meat)
- Butter (Kerrygold is a great brand)
- Full fat cheese, yogurt, cream, and other dairy
- Bacon and other cured meats
- Tallow or lard
Ideally, you’ll get all the animal products above from grass-fed or pasture-raised animals so you can enjoy an extra helping of precious omega-3s as well .
Any questions or comments? We’ll be looking for them below.
Ample has four different fats in it:
Macadamia nut oil, coconut oil, chia seed oil, and sunflower lecithin
I get a lot of questions about the fats in Ample. They’re a little unusual – it’s not every day that you see macadamia nut oil, chia seed, coconut oil, and sunflower lecithin in the same product – but there’s a method to the madness. I’ll take you through my rationale.
In a nutshell, I wanted three things from the fats in Ample:
- Nutrition. That meant a spectrum of useful saturated, monounsaturated, and omega-3 fats, with very few omega-6 fats, and no artificial trans fats (by the way, you can read about the different types of fat here).
- Satiety. I wanted Ample to leave you full for a few hours. Fat plays a big role in that.
- Taste. Food is one of the great pleasures in life. I definitely didn’t want to compromise on flavor.
Here’s how I settled on macadamia nut oil, coconut oil, chia seed oil, and sunflower lecithin for Ample’s formula. Let’s start with the tastiest one: macadamia nut oil.
Macadamia nut oil for monounsaturated fats
I started off looking for a good source of monounsaturated fatty acids (affectionately known as MUFAs).
MUFAs are the happy middle child of the fat world. Your body converts them into energy well . They’re relatively stable. They’re not inflammatory . In short, they’re good healthy fats. MUFAs are one of the main attractions of the famous Mediterranean Diet, which links to low risk of heart disease and dementia .
The challenge is that many oils high in MUFAs also have lots of inflammatory omega-6 fats (more on omega-6s in a moment). I passed on most nut and seed oils because of their higher omega-6 content, and because they’re a common source of food sensitivities .
The three MUFA-rich oils left were macadamia, olive, and avocado.
I tried olive and avocado first. They tasted quite bitter. Then I tried macadamia nut oil. The stuff was a home run – it lent a smooth, nutty undertone to Ample’s taste. It was so good that I gave this label to the first batch that came in:
- Macadamia nut oil has lots of healthy monounsaturated fats
- It’s low in omega-6s
- It tastes awesome
Coconut oil for healthy saturated fats
Saturated fat gets a bad rap, but it’s actually quite useful for your body, provided you get it from good sources. I’d say it’s misunderstood – several recent meta-analyses suggest that overall saturated fat intake doesn’t correlate to heart disease and that the actual story is a little more nuanced [7,8]. There’s a full breakdown of saturated fats coming in the next couple weeks. For now, I’ll leave it at this: after a lot of research, I decided I wanted a good bit of saturated fat in Ample.
Coconut oil turned out to be an excellent choice. For starters, it’s about 96% saturated fat. Check.
What makes coconut oil special, though, is its comprehensive fat profile: it has short-chain, medium-chain, and long-chain fatty acids, each of which offers unique benefits (you can read up on exactly how these fats benefit your body here) .
Roughly half of the fat in coconut oil is lauric acid, which converts to energy quickly and is unlikely to be stored as body fat . In fact, a single but well-controlled study found that coconut oil helped women lose abdominal fat, potentially because of lauric acid . Your body also turns some lauric acid to monolaurin, an antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal compound that kills pathogens without disrupting your gut bacteria .
In short, I chose coconut oil because:
- It has a variety of beneficial fats.
- You metabolize it into energy quickly and fully.
And coconut oil tastes great. It’s a win all around.
Chia seed oil for omega-3s
You’ve probably heard about how awesome omega-3s are for you. They’re the “good” fats, largely because they balance out inflammatory omega-6s that hide in so many processed foods these days. Eating an even ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 correlates with a longer, healthier life .
You may also have heard that one of the best sources of omega-3s is fish oil. It provides all three types of omega-3: ALA, EPA, and DHA. Unfortunately, fish oil tastes…well, fishy. I tried adding fish oil to Ample. It was horrifying.
Chia seed oil, on the other hand, tastes fine, but its nutrient profile isn’t as impressive. It has plenty of ALA, but not much EPA or DHA. And EPA and DHA are more useful – your body can only use about 4-6% of the ALA you eat . So basically, chia seed oil gives you a modest dose of omega-3s.
What’s clearer is that chia seed oil’s antioxidants keep fats very stable , which is good news for Ample; it means the fats you’ve been reading about won’t degrade as your Ample sits on the shelf, and there’s no need for artificial preservatives.
Ample is pretty damn good, but I’m always working on making it better. One way I want to do that is by adding more EPA and DHA. I just have to find a source that doesn’t turn Ample into a fish smoothie.
- Chia seed oil has some omega-3s, mostly in the form of ALA.
- Fish oil is a better source of omega-3s, but it also makes Ample taste like a fish smoothie.
- I’m looking for a non-fishy omega-3 source.
- The antioxidants in chia seed oil keep Ample’s nutrients from breaking down, and may be good for you in their own right.
Sunflower lecithin for omega-6s and choline
Sunflower seeds contain an omega-6 called linoleic acid. It’s an essential fatty acid, meaning you need it to function and your body can’t produce it on its own, so you have to get it from food.
Linoleic acid is great for you … as long as you’re only getting a small amount of it. That’s why there’s not too much sunflower lecithin in Ample – I wanted enough to create a balanced meal, but not so much that it screws up your omega-3 to omega-6 ratio.
The other cool thing about sunflower lecithin? It’s an emulsifier. That means it attracts both liquids and fats and keeps them together. Sunflower lecithin is the reason your bottle of Ample blends into a nice creamy consistency, instead of turning into a separated mess of water, oils, and starches as soon as you shake it up.
- Sunflower lecithin has a balanced amount of linoleic acid, an essential omega-6 fat
- It keeps Ample’s consistency creamy
- It has lots of choline, which keeps your brain running smoothly (By the way, egg yolks are another awesome source of choline)
Enjoy your healthy fats
My goal with Ample was a comprehensive, nutritious meal on the go. I wanted to make sure each bottle has a full spectrum of fatty acids and enough fat to satisfy, without skimping on deliciousness. I hope it works well for you.
I didn’t want to get too crazy into the science here, but if this article got you excited about fats, check out this deeper dive into how fats work. And please, leave any insights or questions in the comments below. I’m always happy to talk more about the science behind this stuff.
In good health,
What you’ll learn:
- The four types of fat, and what they do for you
- Saturated fats
- Monounsaturated fats
- Polyunsaturated fats
- Trans fats
- What foods are good fat sources
- A sample meal plan with a healthy balance of fat
“Hey guys! I’d love to try Ample, but I was looking at the nutrition facts and I’m a little confused. Why are there so many grams of fat in each bottle? It seems unhealthy.”
Great question. People have been debating the merits and detriments of fat for the last 65 years. Both sides produce what looks like good science. Now and then, a government recommendation emerges from the fray like some golden beacon of truth, only to collapse on itself a couple decades later.
The back-and-forth is kind of a bummer if you’re trying to figure out how to eat well.
Or maybe you already know that you need more fat than standard guidelines suggest, but you aren’t sure why, or what types to eat, or what “healthy fat” really means.
Wherever you’re coming from, it doesn’t help that when you turn to Google for your own research, things like this tend to pop up:[source]
There won’t be any more biochemistry flowcharts in this article (incidentally, there won’t be any more Time Magazine covers, either). But we do want to explain how fats work, and what your body does with the fat you eat, so there will be some technical stuff. Here’s the deal:
- We’ll keep the science relatable.
- You’ll come away from this article understanding types of fat, and what they do in your body.
- We’ll lay out a sample meal plan, to give you an example of how to put what you learn into action.
Let’s get into it.
The four types of fat
Fats are usually categorized by how many double bonds they have. Double bonds look like this:
That was terrible. Sorry. In actuality, double bonds look like this:
That’s a diagram of a fat molecule. It looks sort of like a dinner table, and each “H” looks like a person in a chair.
The double bond is an open seat at the table. It offers access to the fat molecule. Double bonds make it easy for something to come along and steal an electron from the fat, which oxidizes (damages) it. The more double bonds a fat has, the more fragile it is. Fragile fats aren’t bad – in fact, some of the healthiest fats are the most fragile. You just have to treat fragile fats with extra care to prevent them from going bad.
Let’s break down the four major types of fat, organized by how many double bonds they have:
- Saturated fats
- Monounsaturated fats
- Polyunsaturated fats
- Trans fats
1) Saturated fats
Saturated fats have no double bonds. In other words, there are no free seats at the table; the binding sites are all full (“saturated”). A saturated fat molecule looks like this:
Saturated fats are the most stable fats around. It takes a lot to get one of those H’s to leave the table. That’s what makes saturated fats good for cooking: they can withstand high heat without breaking down and catching fire.
Saturated fats are also usually close to symmetrical. They pack together tightly, which makes them solid at room temperature – think butter, lard, red meat, and tropical oils like coconut and palm.
1a) Saturated fats come in different lengths
Really, all fats come in different lengths, but length makes the biggest difference with saturated fats. Saturated fats are appropriately categorized into three sizes: short, medium, and long.
Short-chain saturated fats come mostly from carbs that you can’t digest. When you eat fiber or prebiotic starch, it shrugs off your digestive process and reaches your gut mostly intact. There, the bacteria in your gut snack on those carbs, leaving short-chain fats in their wake. Be glad they do: short-chain fats maintain the integrity of your gut lining, which keeps your digestion running smoothly [1,2].
Medium-chain saturated fats (popularly called MCTs) do come from food. They’re abundant in coconut oil, palm oil, and human breast milk, and they’re all the rage with newborns and people on high-fat diets. Most fats have to go through your liver before you can convert them to energy. MCTs aren’t interested in a trip through the liver; they skip that step and convert to energy almost immediately. Many people report a mental boost after consuming MCTs. No studies on healthy humans to confirm that yet, but MCTs do improve brain function in diabetics  and Alzheimer’s patients .
Long-chain saturated fats are what most people think of when they talk about saturated fat. Long-chain fats help form a fatty coating called myelin that insulates your brain cells, much like rubber insulates a wire. They also make up about 50% of the membranes that wrap every cell in your body .
There’s a widely held belief that saturated fat links to heart disease. This is too big a topic to get into here. We’ll unpack saturated fats and heart disease fully over time. For now, the TL;DR is that after studying up on the latest science, we think saturated fats are more misunderstood than unhealthy.
Okay. Enough about saturated fats for now. Let’s get back to talking about double bonds and dinner tables.
2) Monounsaturated fats
Monounsaturated fats have exactly one double bond (hence the “mono”). They’re fairly stable, but there is one free seat for something to slip in and start oxidizing (destroying the fat). Monounsaturated fats look like this:
Monounsaturated fats are like the nice, well-behaved middle child of the fat world. They stay within the lines and get good grades, but rarely do people recognize their worth.
Monounsaturated fats hit a balance between stable and flexible that makes them particularly useful for your brain: about 80% of your brain cells contain monounsaturated fat . The plentiful monounsaturated fat in olive oil, nuts, avocados, and fish could explain why people in the Mediterranean live so long, enjoying unusually low risk of heart disease and dementia .
These are good, well-rounded fats, and you’d do well to eat plenty of them.
3) Polyunsaturated fats
Polyunsaturated fats are the least stable type of fat, thanks to their multiple double bonds (“poly” is Greek for “many”). Enjoy your last chemistry diagram:
Polyunsaturated fats come in primarily two varieties: omega-6 and omega-3. Let’s take a quick look at them now.
You may have heard that omega-6s are bad for you, and that omega-3s are healthy. Generally, that’s true, but both are essential to keeping you alive. The key is balancing the two.
Omega-6s and omega-3s fight with each other in your body over a limited source of enzymes called desaturases. If you’re eating far more omega-6s, they tend to get all the desaturase.
You don’t want to eat mostly omega-6s and have them hog all the enzymes. Excess omega-6s contribute to inflammation, heart disease, and possibly cancer .
That’s troubling, considering the average American gets about 15x more omega-6s than omega-3s . Ideally you want to get that down to a 4:1 ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s, or lower. Easy ways to do that are:
- Switching to grass-fed beef, which has a ~2:1 ratio, instead of grain-fed beef’s 10:1 ratio .
- Eating fatty coldwater fish regularly. Think salmon, sardines, anchovies.
- Taking 4-6 grams of fish oil a day.
- Avoiding vegetable oils with lots of omega-6. You can find a chart comparing vegetable oils here. Note that the omega-6 is the blue, not the red.
4) Trans fats
There’s not much to say about trans fats that hasn’t already been said in the news. They’re unsaturated fats, but artificially added hydrogens make them behave more like saturated fats. They’re cheap and stable, which makes them great for industrial frying or baking.
Unfortunately, they’re also pretty terrible for you. A 14-year-long study tracked the trans fat intake of 120,000 nurses; it concluded that risk of heart attack doubled with each 2% increase in trans fat intake (that is, eating 2% of calories from trans fats doubled risk of heart attack; eating 4% quadrupled it) . A 2006 analysis concluded that trans fats were responsible for up to 100,000 deaths since their introduction to the US food supply 
Most governments no longer recognize artifical trans fats as safe, and in many states in the U.S. manufacturers will have to remove all trans fats from their products by 2018. Trans fats are still around now, though, especially in packaged baked goods or fried foods, and suppliers don’t always report them. Check your nutrition labels for “partially hydrogenated _______ oil.” That’s another way of saying “trans fat.” If you see it, keep your distance.
It’s worth mentioning that there are very small amounts of natural trans fats in beef, sheep, and dairy. Natural trans fats don’t seem to cause the same damage artificial trans fats do, possibly because you’d have to eat a huge amount of meat or dairy to get a meaningful amount of them . The most prominent natural trans fat, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), protects rats from cancer  and diabetes , although studies in humans haven’t found the same benefits. It may just be a rodent thing.
In any case, natural trans fats don’t seem to be much to worry about. But definitely avoid the artificial ones.
Why it’s best to get a variety of fat
Trans fats and excess omega-6s aside, fat is good stuff, and it pays to get each type of it.
- Fats make up cell membranes that give shape to your cells and dictate what goes in and out of them. The mix of fats in the membrane depends on the type of cell. Most of your brain cells, for example, combine saturated and monounsaturated fats in their cell membranes. A smaller portion of your brain cells pair saturated and polyunsaturated. Red blood cells use mostly monounsaturated.
- Your brain is about 60% fat by weight, and fatty acids form essential parts of signaling molecules that help your brain respond to both growth (like when you learn something new) and damage .
- Omega-3s turn into eicosanoids, hormone-like molecules that respond to cellular damage by keeping a lid on inflammation . In other words, they help you heal.
- Fats regulate cholesterol, which turns into testosterone, estrogen, and every single other sex hormone in your body . If you eat lots of fat, your body makes less cholesterol to compensate, which is partly why the government no longer considers cholesterol dangerous .
- You need fats to absorb vitamins A, D, E, and K, as well as a host of non-vitamin nutrients and antioxidants – and because these vitamins and nutrients only dissolve into fats, eating fat tends to be the best source of most of them. Vitamin A alone regulates reproduction, vision, and your immune system .
Plus, fats are delicious. They lend velvety texture and richness to food. There are few things more satisfying than a grass-fed steak, or a salmon filet, or grilled vegetables drizzled with olive oil.
So that’s why there are plenty of good fats in Ample. Fats are an excellent source of energy. They help you heal. They’re brain food. They’re nutrient-dense. And they taste good.
But what about outside of Ample? Let’s finish up with a simple guide to getting the right fats in your day-to-day life.
Here’s how to get good fats every day
Nutrition is funny. It varies so much from person to person that it’s hard to make sweeping statements about what’s good for you. After a lot of thought, we settled on about half of our calories from fat for Ample.
Regardless of how much total fat you eat, the ideal ratio of fats is the same. You want to get nearly equal amounts of omega-3s and omega-6s, with the rest coming from a mix of saturated and monounsaturated fats. Here’s what that would look like in a day.
Saturated fat sources (2-4 servings a day)
- Grass-fed red meat
- Grass-fed butter and cheese<
- Coconut oil, coconut milk, coconut cream
- Pasture-raised bacon
Monounsaturated fat sources (2-4 servings a day)
- Olive oil
- Macadamia nuts
- Black and green olives
Omega-3 fat sources (at least 5-6g per day)
- Wild salmon
- Pasture-raised eggs
- Grass-fed beef
- Fish oil, krill oil, or algae oil supplements
- Raw walnuts
Omega-6 fat sources (under 20g per day)
- Nuts (preferably raw)
- Bacon and pork
A sample meal plan for a day might look like this:
- 2 pasture-raised eggs, cooked in grass-fed butter
- 2 slices pasture-raised bacon (U.S. Wellness Meats has great sugar-free, pasture-raised bacon. You can also get bacon ends to save money)
- Half an avocado
- A grass-fed burger in a lettuce wrap
- Avocado oil mayo on the side (Mark Sisson’s Primal Mayo is the bomb)
- Mixed green salad with goat cheese, raspberries, walnuts, and olive oil-balsamic vinegar dressing
- Grilled sockeye salmon
- Grilled zucchini and broccolini, drizzled with olive oil after cooking
What did we miss? Any thoughts to contribute? We’ll be checking the comments.
In good health,
When I was in graduate school, I was working 3 teaching positions, running a clinical study, fulfilling my research data collection and analysis, studying for a “Qualifying Exam,” which would basically determine whether I became a PhD candidate or not, AND on top of that, training intensively for a ½ marathon. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was creating some major fluctuations in my microbiome, and not for the better.
Likely due to a combo of the above stressful events, little sleep, and ironically enough, poor nutrition, I developed an overgrowth of a bacteria called Helicobacter Pylori (it’s actually a common bacteria to have (1), and usually doesn’t show symptoms unless there’s an imbalance in beneficial to unhealthy bacteria). Because of my lack of time, I frequently grabbed food on the go, and these food choices weren’t always the healthiest. Combined with chronic stress, it was the perfect environment for the proliferation of unhealthy bacteria. For this H. Pylori overgrowth, I had to take a strong dose of two different antibiotics for 2 weeks. I did this round TWICE. Needless to say, this wiped out my microbiome completely and it took me years to re-flourish my healthy bacteria. Aside from the research we’re about to discuss, I will be the first to tell you:
Our Microbiome Matters.
So why is this a big deal? What happens when we get out of sync with our most optimal state?
People talk about the possible health effects of an imbalanced gut – cancer, obesity, and autoimmunity, to name a few, but how can the microbiome have so much of an impact? Does it really influence all of these things? Could it really be the next frontier in medicine?
Perhaps the word itself – microbe – suggests the topic is insignificant to the larger picture of health and self. Maybe we view our microbiome as something separate from us, or perhaps a byproduct of our internal environment and/or genetic makeup that we have no control over.
And maybe you’ve heard of probiotics or have only heard the word microbiome in passing. Or maybe you’re currently suffering from autoimmune issues, food allergies, indigestion, or some other health problem. Regardless, in the next few blog posts, we’ll discuss first what the microbiome is, why optimizing for microbiome health should be on your high priority list whether or not you’ve got any issues, and what you can do about it. After all, the gut microbiome—or, the ecosystem of bacteria living in your GI tract— happens to play a primary role in the following critical body processes:
On the Importance of the Microbiome – A 15,000 ft. View:
“All disease begins with the gut” – Hippocrates
The microbiome, or the ecosystem of microbes living within your GI tract, is incredibly important for many reasons.
It plays a huge role in:
- Harvesting nutrients otherwise inaccessible to us
- Lowering inflammation and developing an immune system
- Determining whether one is lean or overweight
- Absorbing nutrients
- Producing vitamins
- Metabolizing carcinogens
- Preventing colonization by pathogens
- The Central Nervous System, our brain, and our mood
- Predisposing us to many different ailments IF in dysbiosis, including:
- Inflammation, autoimmunity, cancer risk, metabolic disorders, obesity, depression, nutrient deficiency
Are we human? Or are we microbes?
The microbiome is linked to almost every part of our health (4, 5, 6, 7, 8, & 9). This is most evident, unfortunately, when things go wrong. A dysbiosis within this complex community can be associated with increases in asthma, allergies, metabolic disorder, diabetes, cancer, obesity, and autoimmune disease (10 & 11), to name just a few.
This, however, shouldn’t come as a surprise to us. We are, after all, 99% microbial and 1% “human” (2 & 3), which is to say our gut bacteria have one hundred times more genes and 10-fold more cells than our human counterpart, respectively (we have about 10 trillion cells, whereas our bacteria are comprised of approximately 100 trillion cells). These genomes are a product of 200,000 year co-evolution.
Single-celled organisms are roughly 3.5 billion years old; they help us break down and extract more energy from indigestible food (exponentially more than we would have been able to get without them), they help us efficiently utilize and store extra calories, they produce vitamins, make enzymes that help us break down and absorb vitamins & minerals, prevent colonization of other bacteria that may be pathogenic, and contribute to a healthy immune system (13). It’s clear that the microbiome evolved to contribute something to our health.
Interestingly, in any ecosystem (think rainforest for example), but especially our microbiome, diversity matters. Typically when diversity decreases, it’s not a good thing. According to some researchers, our ancestors had a more diverse gut microbiota than we currently have (13). Cultures such as the Hadza, who are an example of our “modern-day ancestors,” have been shown to have a wider diversity of microbes than what is noticed in Western society (13). And it turns out that the Hadza’s risk for many of the chronic diseases that we face, is almost absent. Though it doesn’t prove anything, this gives us some clues at why optimizing gut microbiome may be very critical. Similarly, it may not be a far stretch to assume that the rise of most major diseases present today came with a shift in our food system.
But how does this microbiome actually work its magic?
Our microbiome is seeded at birth
Before birth, we have very little, if any, bacteria. We become colonized with initial bacterial species AT birth, beginning with the the passage through the birth canal. One of the first exposures following this initial colonization is through breast milk, which surprisingly, babies can’t actually digest very well! (called milk oligosaccharides). At this point, the human GI tract contains about 90% colonization through the genus Bifidobacteria (17), along with Lactobacilli (16).
As an adult, we’re not good at breaking down complex carbohydrates (fiber, resistant starch, etc.) either, and co-evolved with microbes to help us with this task. As we get exposed to more food and the environment, our digestive system begins to slowly get colonized and diversified with other species, including Clostredium, Ruminococcus, Veilonella, and others (18). We become dominated by two main phyla of bacteria: Bacteroidetes and Firmicutes (18), and the percentage of each phyla is very important to health.
Why would evolution do this? Somehow nature knew to feed another important part of our physiology: the microbiota.
Processing indigestible stuff —> more nutrients
According to researchers Jeff Leach and the Sonnenberg Laboratory, our ancestors would eat 10 times as much fiber and resistant starches as we currently do (11,13, & 23 ). An average American eats 10-15 grams of fiber per day (still short of the recommended 30-35 daily grams). Compare this to the Hadza at 100-200 grams per day! On top of that, they ate seasonally (not sure they had a choice), further diversifying their microbiome by exposing themselves to all different kinds of foods, which in turn flourished different kinds of bacteria in their distal gut.
What about the outcome of that fiber? We can see in the fermentation of undigested foods that bacteria produce end-products called short chain fatty acids (SCFA), including Acetate, Propionate, and Butyrate, which have regulatory mechanisms to our metabolism, appetite, and increasing T-regulatory cells (14). SCFA are also the main energy source to colonic cells, which make up the barrier that protects our immune cells from becoming exposed to the bacteria.
This is your brain on microbes
But wait, there’s more! No seriously, things get pretty interesting here. 100 million neurons line the GI tract from esophagus to rectum (5). When things get weird down there, your brain is listening. The microbiome is in charge of releasing enzymes and controlling blood flow, and it’s not just taking orders from the boss (brain) upstairs. This is a full blown conversation, and the influence may be bottoms up.
This is due to the tight connection between our microbes and and the brain-gut axis. Which is why what you eat influences your mood, your cravings, and your neural chemistry and affects serotonin, dopamine, epinephrine, GABA, catecholamines, and acetylcholine (5).
Altering our microbes changes US
There are also huge differences seen between the microbiomes of healthy vs. unhealthy individuals.
You can actually witness major shifts in health outcomes when you transplant the microbiota from one organism to another (i.e. obese to lean mouse turns the lean mouse obese, malnourished to non-malnourished turns the not sick now sick, and even anxiety-prone mouse to non anxiety-prone, turning the former into the latter).
For example, obese mice microbes transplanted to germ-free mice get fatter than if they were transplanted from lean mice microbes. This is a result of not only being able to harvest more energy from the food, but their behavior also changes! They are actually eating more! (10).
The same is true for an obese person’s microbes transplanted to a germ-free mouse, as opposed to transplanting from a lean person (yes, human to mouse). Similarly, individuals who have a C. difficile infection (think diarrhea up to 20x/day), that are transplanted with the microbes of a a non-infected donor exhibit relief of all symptoms, essentially resembling the donor’s community! (12).
Even more interesting, because 99% of our total genome is microbial, we can examine the microbes in an individual’s gut and predict with 90% accuracy whether a person is lean or obese. Examine the the human genome to predict the same information and that falls to approximately 60% accuracy, at best (12).
Who runs the show on inflammation and immunity?
Another fascinating observation is just how intelligent this micro-community really is. Bacteria in our gut are essentially struggling to create the most optimal environment for their own survival (which, happens to be that of our own). They can release inflammatory markers that in some way benefits them. This may lead to a feedback loop where the gut can become entrenched in an anti-inflammatory state, or conversely, an inflammatory state (Justin and Erica Sonnenberg). So we can’t just label bacteria as “pro” or “anti” inflammatory. Similarly, a disease state usually takes a long time to showcase itself- it’s not usually just that moment. Which is a good reason to play the long-game when it comes to overall health.
What happens if we starve, or even kill the little guys (read – ourself)? When our microbiota don’t have the nutrients to survive, they start eating away at our own mucus lining in the search for food. They eventually get closer and closer to the gut barrier where our immune cells are (side-note: our immune cells are not usually in contact with bacterial cells. Once in contact, an immune response is initiated, and immune cells are released and kill bacteria. Bacteria then release Lipopolysaccharide (LPS) endotoxin (20, 21), and if hyper-activated, leads to autoimmune diseases such as arthritis, multiple sclerosis, type I diabetes (22), and so on). Once mucin is being broken down, we’re not making as much! In other words, it’s a double-edged sword.
The death example posed above is essentially what happens when we take antibiotics. As we all know, or at least have read/heard, antibiotics are widely prescribed nowadays. Researchers mention that with each additional round of antibiotics, one is less likely to recover from wiping out all of our good bacteria.
So, is it all doom and gloom? Absolutely not. We can change our microbiome! In fact, it actually changes and adjusts relatively easily – by diet, by the environment, and by transplantation from another organism. The key is – you have to feed it – meaning there has to be foodstuff actually available to the microbiota. Most processed/easily digestible meals don’t get to the bacteria because we break it down first! (So there’s nothing left for them). The primary food substrate for the microbiome is fiber, and when the bacteria don’t have a food substrate to consume, they start eating away at our own mucus lining in the gut. That’s when problems start arising.
According to Justin and Erica Sonnenberg, if we can take away the bad bugs and give ourselves time to repair and achieve a new homeostasis, giving resources that will provide a less inflammatory state, THAT is the bacterial sweet spot. (of course prevention should be first line). With additional research, we may even find that our own unique microbiome might actually be the starting point in the pursuit of optimal health.
So that’s the 15,000 foot view. Over the next few weeks, we will look more closely into each of these aspects to see exactly what we can do to optimize that 99% part of our health.
- http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v445/n7130/abs/nature05562.html Linz, B., Balloux, F., Moodley, Y., Manica, A., Liu, H., Roumagnac, P., … & Yamaoka, Y. (2007). An African origin for the intimate association between humans and Helicobacter pylori. Nature, 445(7130), 915-918.
- http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0163725811000362 Cani, P. D., & Delzenne, N. M. (2011). The gut microbiome as therapeutic target. Pharmacology & therapeutics, 130(2), 202-212.
- http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1462-2920.2005.00959.x/full Abdo, Z., Schüette, U. M., Bent, S. J., Williams, C. J., Forney, L. J., & Joyce, P. (2006). Statistical methods for characterizing diversity of microbial communities by analysis of terminal restriction fragment length polymorphisms of 16S rRNA genes. Environmental microbiology, 8(5), 929-938.
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22940212 LeBlanc, J. G., Milani, C., de Giori, G. S., Sesma, F., Van Sinderen, D., & Ventura, M. (2013). Bacteria as vitamin suppliers to their host: a gut microbiota perspective. Current opinion in biotechnology, 24(2), 160-168.
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4367209/ Carabotti, M., Scirocco, A., Maselli, M. A., & Severi, C. (2015). The gut-brain axis: interactions between enteric microbiota, central and enteric nervous systems. Annals of gastroenterology: quarterly publication of the Hellenic Society of Gastroenterology, 28(2), 203.
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3735932/#bib31 Den Besten, G., van Eunen, K., Groen, A. K., Venema, K., Reijngoud, D.-J., & Bakker, B. M. (2013). The role of short-chain fatty acids in the interplay between diet, gut microbiota, and host energy metabolism. Journal of Lipid Research, 54(9), 2325–2340. http://doi.org/10.1194/jlr.R036012
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11581570 Alexander, C., & Rietschel, E. T. (2001). Invited review: bacterial lipopolysaccharides and innate immunity. Journal of endotoxin research, 7(3), 167-202.
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2327198/ Yoshino, S., Sasatomi, E., & Ohsawa, M. (2000). Bacterial lipopolysaccharide acts as an adjuvant to induce autoimmune arthritisin mice. Immunology, 99(4), 607–614. http://doi.org/10.1046/j.1365-2567.2000.00015.x
- Dietert, R. R., & Silbergeld, E. K. (2015). Biomarkers for the 21st century: listening to the microbiome. Toxicological Sciences, kfv013.
- https://knightlab.ucsd.edu/wordpress/?page_id=25 Accessed January 23, 2017.
- http://sonnenburglab.stanford.edu/ Accessed January 23, 2017.
- https://www.ted.com/talks/rob_knight_how_our_microbes_make_us_who_we_are Accessed January 21, 2017.
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4053917/ Fijan, S. (2014). Microorganisms with claimed probiotic properties: an overview of recent literature. International journal of environmental research and public health, 11(5), 4745-4767.
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3593662/pdf/nihms417420.pdf Garrido, D., Ruiz-Moyano, S., Jimenez-Espinoza, R., Eom, H. J., Block, D. E., & Mills, D. A. (2013). Utilization of galactooligosaccharides by Bifidobacterium longum subsp. infantis isolates. Food microbiology, 33(2), 262-270.
- http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0092867416314477 Sharon, G., Sampson, T. R., Geschwind, D. H., & Mazmanian, S. K. (2016). The central nervous system and the gut microbiome. Cell, 167(4), 915-932.
- http://www.cell.com/cell/fulltext/S0092-8674(15)00248-2 Yano, J. M., Yu, K., Donaldson, G. P., Shastri, G. G., Ann, P., Ma, L., … & Hsiao, E. Y. (2015). Indigenous bacteria from the gut microbiota regulate host serotonin biosynthesis. Cell, 161(2), 264-276.
- http://diabetes.diabetesjournals.org/content/57/6/1470. Cani, P. D., Bibiloni, R., Knauf, C., Waget, A., Neyrinck, A. M., Delzenne, N. M., & Burcelin, R. (2008). Changes in gut microbiota control metabolic endotoxemia-induced inflammation in high-fat diet–induced obesity and diabetes in mice. Diabetes, 57(6), 1470-1481.
- http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0016508512001588 Pendyala, S., Walker, J. M., & Holt, P. R. (2012). A high-fat diet is associated with endotoxemia that originates from the gut. Gastroenterology, 142(5), 1100-1101.
- http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00125-007-0791-0 Cani, P. D., Neyrinck, A. M., Fava, F., Knauf, C., Burcelin, R. G., Tuohy, K. M., … & Delzenne, N. M. (2007). Selective increases of bifidobacteria in gut microflora improve high-fat-diet-induced diabetes in mice through a mechanism associated with endotoxaemia. Diabetologia, 50(11), 2374-2383.
- http://humanfoodproject.com/ accessed Januray 25th, 2017.
In the same way that protein shakers use a metal whisk to make protein shakes smooth, we added a cool plastic whisk shaped like beta-hydroxybutyrate (my second-favorite molecule) for to use in making your Ample be as smooth as possible.
Just pop the molecule in your unfilled Ample, add liquid, and shake it up. The molecule is recyclable along with the bottle, but you can reuse it as well. You’ll notice that we only gave you 6, even if you purchased a 12- or 30-pack, since we created these little guys as a test to see how you like them!
Hey Team Ample,
Let me tell you why algae is awesome.
It happens to be an amazing source of monounsaturated fat, has fiber and protein, is low in carbs, and actually tastes like creamy deliciousness. Originally, macadamia nut was the sole source of monounsaturated fats in Ample, but we felt algae was one of the few ingredients worthy enough to share the limelight. So you can bet that when we found a company that we liked and trusted, we jumped at the opportunity to work it into the Ample formula.
Fast forward to last week.
We were one day away from flying to our contract manufacturer to begin making our first 100,000 units of Ampley goodness, when we heard that the algae used in our product may be linked to intolerance, or difficulty in digestion for some people. And although there is no solid evidence and the investigation is ongoing, we had to make a decision.
We faced two options:
- Move ahead with production, and ship by the end of November. Chances are that the algae, as data and in particular its use in Japan for over 50 years suggest, is fine. You are our family, our friends, and our customers, and you’re expecting to receive an awesome product soon. And of course, our business only really begins when we have a product to sell.
- Proceed with an abundance of caution, and reformulate the product without algae, knowing there may be a significant production delay. Sure, we disappoint customers and friends anxious to get their product, but it gives us time to work with our algae supplier, get the facts clear and compile new supporting data so we can re-introduce algae in the future.
Frankly though, there wasn’t really a choice here. We could not in good conscience proceed with our launch as scheduled. Sometimes it’s great to take risks. To “move fast and break things” as Mark Zuckerberg would say. But when it comes to the potential food sensitivities of our consumers, taking a risk, as low as it may be, just isn’t an option.
So for the rest of last week, the Ample formulating dynamic duo (Julie and Connor) rejiggered Ample back to gaining its monounsaturated oils almost exclusively from the macadamia nut we know and love. Late Thursday night, that mission was accomplished, with Ample delivering the same great nutrition! Check out the new labels below.
Reformulation complete, production was the next thing to take care of. Given a whole new reformulation and thousands of kilograms of new raw material to purchase, transfer and test, we were expecting to lose months. Yet, due to the hard work of Rona and our awesome contract manufacturer, we were able to push our production to just a few weeks from now.
On one hand, it’s a major bummer that we can’t ship as fast as intended. On the other hand, we’re supremely fortunate to have still had the chance to eliminate any potential risk. Our goal is optimal, and you deserve nothing less. Thanks for your continued support as we roll with the punches and make sure we deliver only the best.
We’re working hard to try and ensure ol’ Saint Nick will be packing some Amples in your stockings for Christmas. : )
Hey Team Ample!
- We are still headed toward starting to ship later this month!
- We’ve made many improvements to our formulas, and we’re excited to share the updated ingredient lists and nutrition facts for the versions of Ample we’ll be shipping to you! Take a look below, and read on for a deeper dive.
Happy Friday, team!
Last week, we celebrated the end of our first chapter with friends, family, investors, mentors, and advisors – many people who have supported us here in the Bay since the beginning… as well as some of you amazing backers! We bid farewell to our current small-scale, handmade-with-love-in-a-commercial-kitchen version of the product:
Thank you again for your support. Please check out this video from the event, and know that we wish each and every one of you could have joined us:
The Flavor Chronicles:
The last time we chatted via Facebook livestream, we were working on nailing the flavor profile, given the changes in our suppliers. We thought we had a winner after formulating an all-natural flavor in Chicago, but this flavor turned unexpectedly sour somewhere between sample-making and production. It was just plain bad!
Since shipping a poor tasting product is not an option, we went back to the formulation drawing board. This meant the new task was to find organic sources of natural flavors that tasted good, while still keeping our sugar levels to a minimum. After another week of iterative testing, we did just that, and are excited to have since finalized the manufacture-ready formulas for both Ample and Ample X!
But because we had to reformulate the flavor, we had to order new material. Some of these ingredients, like high quality vanilla, have long lead times, so that means shipping is delayed.
However, we are excited to confirm that both Ample and Ample X will ship out at the same time!
Here is the new timeline:
- Now until week of 10/17: waiting for remaining raw material to come in
- Week of 10/24: making and approving the master samples with the new formulas, plus testing all raw material
- Week of 10/31: preparing for production
- Week of 11/7: blending takes place, followed by product being sent out for testing prior to bottling
- Weeks of 11/14 and 11/21: filling, bottling, labeling, packaging
- Week of 11/28: Ample moves to our fulfillment centers and ships out to you!
We’re doing everything in our power to push this timeline and move it along as quickly as possible—we hope everyone will be able to give thanks for their Ample at the Thanksgiving table this year. In the meantime, we’ll be bringing you more information as it becomes available. In the next broadcast, we’ll be able to provide updated nutrition facts!
Other great things happening:
- Customer service and community-building are of the utmost importance to the success of our company and the support we give to you. So we’re pumped to announce we’ve found the perfect person to fill that role on Team Ample! We know she’ll be legendary, and are excited to introduce her when she begins late October!
- Connor, Julie and Rona will be traveling to a convention next week to scope out new potential suppliers and source new materials! Have no fear–we’re not going to overturn this current formula and cause any further delays, but we’ll be making amazing contacts with ingredient suppliers to massively level up our products in production runs to come.